There were as many fans cheering the home squad as the visitors.
Joe Robbie rolled over in his grave as Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross inappropriately mingled on the sideline with the college coach of the opposing quarterback who was in the process of leading a double-digit comeback.
The Dolphins made enough mistakes to justify the immediate firing of their embattled head coach — and the Denver Broncos still struggled to take advantage.
“There were good things, bad things and everything in between,” Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow said afterward.
Nobody personified that more than him.
All of the surreal events that unfolded Sunday in a bowling shoe-ugly matchup seemed downright normal compared to Tebow’s performance in an 18-15 overtime victory over Miami.
For almost 55 minutes, Tebow was Te-blow. He had completed four of 12 passes for 40 yards. He was sacked four times. He had failed to get Denver on the scoreboard as Miami took a 15-0 lead.
But on this bizarro afternoon, Tebow had the Dolphins just where he wanted them.
The non-textbook, backyard style of play that has become Tebow’s trademark in four career NFL starts suddenly began to click. Sandwiched around a successful onside kick, thanks to a Dolphins fumble, Tebow threw two touchdown passes and ran for the game-tying two-point conversion on a quarterback draw.
Broncos head coach John Fox knew better than to expect more than that from Tebow in overtime after linebacker D.J. Williams’ sack-and-strip of Dolphins quarterback Matt Moore. Rather than risk having his second-year quarterback throw to try and improve positioning for a field-goal kicker who had missed two earlier attempts from shorter distances, Denver called three straight running plays to set up Matt Prater’s 52-yard field goal.
Asked about the strategy, a smiling Fox said, “Fortunately this worked out or I’d be answering this question differently.”
Tebow didn’t definitively answer any questions about his long-term NFL future in his first Sun Life Stadium appearance since a magical January night in 2009 when the University of Florida defeated Oklahoma for the national title. That Tebow-led Gators team was celebrated Sunday in a desperate Dolphins ticket promotion that resulted in as many Tebow supporters attending the game as Miami faithful.
Although his throwing motion isn’t as elongated as during his college days, Tebow’s mechanics and touch remain spotty at best after one-plus NFL seasons. Two plays after heaving a deep sideline incompletion well past wide receiver Demaryius Thomas, Tebow had the chance to connect with an open Eric Decker streaking through the Miami secondary toward a certain touchdown.
Tebow overthrew him, too.
Even at his rawest, Michael Vick — one of the few NFL quarterbacks with Tebow’s rushing ability — was more accurate. Carolina rookie Cam Newton, another dangerous run-pass threat, already looks more advanced despite having only one season as a Division I college starter.
Yet when the Broncos needed a big play, Tebow lofted a 42-yard completion down the seam to wide receiver Matthew Willis that set up Denver’s first touchdown. Tebow threw a nice throw-back screen to tight end Daniel Fells for another score. And Tebow didn’t hesitate to call his own number with an audible on the subsequent two-point conversion even though Dolphins coach Tony Sparano admitted “we were looking for Tebow to run it.”
“This is all him,” Fox said.
In so many ways, Tebow shows scant feel for the NFL game. A hint of Dolphins pressure would send him scurrying from the pocket, sometimes with suspect ball security. Tebow has made plays before in that mode, but that’s not a recipe for consistent success at this level if simple bread-and-butter calls can’t be effectively executed. The Dolphins wisely began stacking the box on running downs, forcing Tebow into third-and-long situations. The Broncos were 0-for-10 until their rally.
And in the end, it didn’t matter.
“That hurt even worse,” said Dolphins linebacker Karlos Dansby, who didn’t help Miami’s cause by bobbling a first-quarter Tebow pass that could have been returned for a touchdown. “You had the game won and you just let it slip through your fingers.”
All hope is lost for Miami (0-6). When his conversation with former Gators coach Urban Meyer wrapped at game’s end, Ross slowly headed toward the entrance tunnel where he then looked around for Sparano.
Ross didn’t find him, but no matter. The overmatched Sparano will be gone soon enough as the “Suck for Luck” sentiment continues to grow among frustrated Dolphins fans.
The Broncos (2-4) would be in better contention to select Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck with the 2012 draft’s top overall pick if they wouldn’t have won Sunday. This is where things get tricky for Denver’s John Elway-led management.
The Broncos already have enough of a hard time evaluating Tebow because of the lousy practices that led to Kyle Orton procuring the starter’s role until he was benched two weeks ago. When the games are played, Tebow is proving good enough to beat crappy teams like Miami. However, we’re a long way from knowing whether Tebow can become even half the quarterback Elway was or a viable long-term solution for Denver under center.
“He’s one of those guys that wins games,” said Dolphins outside linebacker Jason Taylor, who demonstratively led a segment of anti-Tebow chants during regulation. “It wasn’t pretty. It should have been a win for us.”
Taylor is right. Yet Fox pointed out that Tebow and Elway share one exceptional quality — “competitive greatness.”
“Not everybody that plays in the league has that,” Fox said. “There’s no doubt about your great players in any sport.”
Tebow isn’t great. Far from it — and he admits as much.
“I didn’t think it was going to be like that today, but sometimes you have to find a way, keep believing and keep fighting,” Tebow said. “That’s what we did. That’s something special.”